Top schools for high achievers

BASIS Charter in Tucson, a very rigorous school started by Soviet refugees, is America’s top public high school, according to Newsweek, which ranks based on the percentage of graduating seniors who take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests. An equity index shows what percentage of students take at least one advanced class.

Most of the top-ranked schools are magnets that draw gifted students. Charter high schools also were well represented: In addition to BASIS at number one, the charter list includes Preuss UCSD (6) in San Diego County, Pacific Collegiate (13) in Santa Cruz, Boston’s MATCH (25) and Raleigh Charter (27). Preuss and MATCH stand out because most of their students come from low-income black or Hispanic families.

About Joanne


  1. My school ranked in the 600s. Is that even good? The rankings would mean more to me if I knew how many TOTAL high schools there are, then 600 and something might mean something 🙂

    I do know that my school is approved to offer 81! AP courses next year. That SOUNDS impressive but it’s political. Ask around how many kids pass the AP exam. And ask around which of our Title 1 population are in those classes. It’s few and far. We have a highly gifted magnet and a School for Advanced studies. As you can see, these tests truly are quite skewed and I don’t know how much we can truly rely on their rankings.

  2. By the way,

    I was in Boston a couple of months ago with a team from the school I will be working at come September. We are a brand spanking new, building isn’t even open yet, LAUSD school. We went to Boston to learn about their Pilot Schools and to tour some of them. In general, I think Boston is doing some great things education wise. The school I’ll be at is applying for Pilot status within LAUSD. VERY EXCITING STUFF! If you want to read more about it, check out the Center for Collaborative Education.

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology didn’t make the list at all. This causes me to suspect that Jay Mathews means something different than I do when he refers to good public schools.

    Ã…nyone have any insight here?

    -Mark Roulo

  4. Eric Jablow says:

    Neither the Bronx High School for Science nor Stuyvesant High School appears on the list. This list has little credibility. Perhaps Mr. Mathews has left out schools that have entrance examinations.

  5. Mark — he doesn’t mean anything at all, near as I can tell.

    If there was a prize for most useless ranking of schools, Newsweek would win every year.

    Newsweek gets the number of AP exams taken at a high school, divides it by the number of graduating students, tosses out very selective high schools like Northern Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson, and phones in a fluffy cover story about “challenging expectations”. All their ranking system really measures is the number of times a high school manages to corral students into a room with an AP exam. Historically it fails to measure how well the students do — for all the ranking system cares, number one ranked BASIS Charter’s students flunked every single exam they took. (They now include some component that measure scores of three or higher, but this has no weight on their ranking system.) That’s just the start of the study’s problems. Newsweek also doesn’t pay attention to the number of students taking exams, just the total number of exams taken. Thus schools with a couple of over-achievers taking five or six APs, and the vast bulk of the population taking none, perform well on Newsweek’s metric. High schools with large numbers of drop-outs (and hence smaller graduating classes) look like they’re doing really well.

    Newsweek’s FAQ about their ranking is here:

  6. Tracy W says:

    This is silly, they should call this list “American’s schools with the top students”. They don’t appear to make any effort to control for how good the students are when they enter the school.

  7. The ranking is terrible. It very, very roughly correlates with quality [i.e. the top 100 are better than the bottom 100] — but it makes the flawed US News College List seem like God-given statistics in comparison. Not only do they focus on APs, but they ignore AP scores, just passing rates. Furthermore, they have various “equality” adjustments which cut against top schools with few average students. The whole thing is unvalidated against other measures and would not survive review by competent econometric experts in the field of education. My guess is that they fudged a lot, checked to see that lots of good schools they recognized did well on it, kept out the Jeffersons and Stuyvesants, and then made up reasons why their arbitrary criteria were “reasonable.” The blather about statistics experts they “consulted” is just that. Someone like Levitt would demolish this in 5 seconds.

    The true disgrace is that academia could come up with a better and more reliable system, but the pressures against creating and endorsing such a system would be enormous. And schools would withhold the most vital data. Would the unions **really** want a reputable, academically solid ranking that highlighted which were the good schools and which the crappy, especially if the results were politically incorrect? This way, they can always rail against how stupid Newsweek is, while using the ranking when it favors them.

  8. Mark Roulo says:

    This is silly, they should call this list “American’s schools with the top students”.

    Except that since they exclude TJ and Bronx High School for Science and Stuyvesant High School (and probably a bunch of others), maybe it should be “America’s non-selective public high schools with some top students.”

    Hmmm … it doesn’t really *flow* …


    -Mark Roulo

  9. Mark Roulo says:

    Thanks, Jeff, for the explanation.

    -Mark R.

  10. Marty Rose says:

    US public high schools, depending on definition, range in number between 14,000 – 20,000, according to NCES.

    So, if your HS is in the top 1300, you’re in the top 6 – 10 percent.

  11. Wasn’t the Preuss School at UCSD in San Diego under investigation for grade inflation and tampering last year?

    Yes, it was: